August 22, 2016

Protecting Yourself from Cockpit Laser Attacks

Mr. Jason Paliwar from Iridian Spectral Technologies gives an overview of his company's laser-blocking eyewear coating technology.

Aircraft laser strikes are on the rise, despite public awareness campaigns in the United States and Canada to draw attention to this illegal activity and stiffer penalties for perpetrators. Two presentations during Monday’s Aviation Security Forum highlighted steps the industry is taking to locate offenders and better protect pilots in the cockpit.

On the Ground

“Between 2014 and 2015, there was approximately a doubling of the number of incidents reported to the FAA,” said Dr. Tom Reynolds, a laser strike detection researcher at the Lincoln Laboratory at MIT. “In 2016, we’re on pace for about a 10 to 20 percent increase,” he added, noting that one of the biggest challenges is locating those responsible.

Reynolds outlined the experimental use of a ground-based geolocation network with sensors that the Lincoln Laboratory has developed, which facilitates the detection of cockpit laser-strike offenders. As most illumination events take place during the landing phase of flight, sensors are positioned along the final approach to a runway.

When an individual shines a laser at an aircraft, the laser beam light scatters off air molecules and particles. Two ground sensors in the vicinity detect the scattered light, and sensor imagery is processed to geolocate the source of that illumination, which is then forwarded to law enforcement for action.

Reynolds reported that the FAA has approved testing and the Lincoln Laboratory hopes to transition to an operational prototype program by October 2016.

In the Cockpit

One of the ways pilots can protect themselves, especially during takeoffs and landings, is to don protective eyewear. Iridian, makers of the LaseReflect® line of laser-reflection glasses, also presented during Monday’s Aviation Security Forum.

In his presentation, Jason Palidwar from Iridian Spectral Technologies cited a WestJet crew’s experience with a laser on approach to Ottawa McDonald-Cartier International Airport in September 2014. The crew was lased at approximately 11,000 feet, and the event went on sporadically for three to four minutes, resulting in the captain suffering a blurring of his vision for several days.

Palidwar pointed out that the majority of laser strikes come from green (wavelength of 532 nm) lasers, and that Iridian’s latest offering is the LaseReflect Aviator LRG13, designed to provide greater than 99 percent reflection of the most commonly used green lasers. These glasses reduce glare over a field of view for angles of incidence of 0º to 20º, and are manufactured on high-clarity glass.

Learn how to mitigate a laser event  and find forms to report them.